Stuff I Loved in 2011

That’s the feeling I look for, right? In whatever I’m eating, be it real food, or entertainment, art, people. The major event. A safe, manageable portion of the inner land or map blown away, torn out and away, dissolved or smoked. I only know a couple people who really seek that, or when they say they want that destruction it’s a good lie, and maybe they’ve said it enough so it’s shared and indistinguishable from truth. Regardless, it’s a common myth, a familiar dragon to chase, that of the Art That Changes For Good. I rarely recognize the mountain exploding in realtime, while reading something or watching a movie, it’s felt live that way maybe four times in my adultish life. Mostly it’s just feeling the echo of the boom a time later. Still, standing mountains aren’t terrible, and are often really nice. But sometimes you get lucky (pictured, pictured). Here’s what my year looked like:

This year was more so filled with people and events, but some books and movies were important: I read Nothing by Blake Butler in the third floor bedroom in an old house in Sezze, Italy. The room was incredibly hot, and the open window often sent in weird, angry voices over bullhorns; it sounded like some kind of really violent political rally/concert. I read it in three long nights, about six hours of sleep between them. We finally figured it out: sleep in the bottom floor. The stone walls helped. ‘Great’ is used a lot, it’s an easy word to say and type, but Nothing is great. I reviewed it in full over here, but the experience of reading it both induced a 7 day long insomnia in me, and let me unlock and inhabit old memories and soft new thoughts about myself, my mind, death and living. It’s a big book. And so fucking admirable and beautiful that HarperPerennial published it. Another one from HP that I read this year is The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper. I tried a review at that one here, too, but it’s a book that’s perfectly confusing and a strain to talk about in any typical way. Which is very good. I’ve read it three times.

I read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. It took at least three months. It’s worth all that time and more. I’ve never read a book that feels this bottomless (a very different sensation than full, like Finnegans Wake or Infinite Jest even). Through the long span of reading it and not reading it, just looking at it, or carrying it around, I kept thinking about art. It’s power, its lack of power, what it does to the hypercultured; I’d call most readers of this blog hypercultured. Does it blunt us to the real trauma around us? To the relationships and forms that are actually unavoidable? I wouldn’t be surprised. I do know that art really can “humanize” someone, in that it can make them really aware of other minds and ways of life, painfully & acutely aware, for the first time. It’s becoming harder to fight off the idea that art is best as a benign storehouse for excess energy, for ideas or behaviors that would normally be considered weird or offensive, and that, at its best and most beautiful, is contagious and hooks people into its practice and community, in order to grow itself as a form of human activity; but why fight this? In other words, art as/is the least harmful cultural node. 2666 seems to me like a thing made to be a symbol and signal of chaos and fear, maybe a reminder to be reverent, at the least.

Then, in a wholly different way, I read Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. Which is just information & knowledge porn. So pleasurable. It’s an amazing story about money, what money has ever been, what it has wrought. A serious work of scholarship and synthesized histories. If you’re curious at all about the most powerful force of human organization in the last 5,000 years, uhh, read this. Disgustingly dogeared. Hey, publisher Melville House: congratulations!

Movies were rough. Mostly. Martha Marcy May Marlene captured some time and sequences that were bafflingly good and poetic, and is probably my favorite movie released this year. Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is really good, really interesting, and the clearest successor to Eyes Wide Shut that I can think of. Wonderful to see a film from a first time director (and a novelist!) be so clear in its style and force. Elizabeth Olsen and Mia Wasikowska gave the two best performances I’ve seen this year. And I got so emotional in Warrior, it was great. And the movie handles a lot of the necessary tropes really deftly. And I know it wasn’t released this year, but I saw Inside Job for the first time. It effortlessly lays out the finance industry’s crimes, it’s fun to watch, and it’s the movie I think everyone should be forced to see before they take a job or sign a mortgage.

Another book I enjoyed: Berg by Ann Quin. And Deliverance by James Dickey is so lush and tense simultaneously. (thanks Derek, thanks Gian!)

There’s other stuff of course, always: websites, articles, scattered writing, images, video games, art in large buildings. But overall, it was a year mostly full of friends and moving in the meat world. This is the stuff that let some air in.